Update: At the end of this article, giving McCain one last shred of the benefit of the doubt, I suggest that perhaps he doesn’t know what a planetarium is, maybe confusing it with some kind of fancy nickelodeon device or 1893 World’s Fair attraction. All of this despite McCain having trained in a planetarium at the Naval Academy. Well, now we can’t even consider that, since he visited a planetarium less than a month ago:
The presumed Republican presidential candidate, McCain was scheduled to speak at 9 a.m. today to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Orlando. Afterward, he planned to head for Cocoa, where he will attend an 11:15 closed-door, roundtable discussion with 18 local space industry leaders .
The meeting at the Astronaut Memorial Planetarium at Brevard Community College is closed to the public. Although McCain is expected to make a brief public statement afterward.
That’s the planetarium I helped build in 1994 – I know it very, very well. He probably walked by my old office, and sat under the planetarium dome where I spent a lot of blood, sweat and tears, silently nodding his head while looking up in awe, “So this is what a plantation looks like.”
He was waiting until my power went out for a few days to say this.
If you needed any more evidence that a certain major political party – at least on the Federal level – is on the completely wrong side of science education in this country, I give you the latest quote from Presidential Candidate John McCain:
McCain responded by criticizing Obama for seeking more than $900 million in these earmarks, by one count.
‘‘That’s nearly a million every day, every working day he’s been in Congress,’’ McCain said. ‘‘And when you look at some of the planetariums and other foolishness that he asked for, he shouldn’t be saying anything about Governor Palin.’’ (emphasis mine)
I can just about hear all the hushed “oooohhhs” from the science education community, like Dustin Diamond had just slapped Jack Lambert with a white glove. Oh no he didn’t!
It’s no secret that science education in primary and secondary schools in the U.S. is poor when compared to the rest of the industrialized world. That’s the polite way to say it. You could also say without hyperbole that it’s in shambles, and that since America is by far the richest country in the world, the fact that we can’t even teach our own kids the basics of science and math is an embarrassment that weakens the foundation for this country’s future.
In math, only four countries had average scores lower than the United States. Students in 23 countries had a higher average score, and those in two countries did about the same as the Americans.
Mark S. Schneider, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics in the Education Department, said the exam isn’t designed to measure a student’s recall of facts. Instead, he said, it tests a student’s ability to apply knowledge using “more sophisticated concepts and deeper reasoning skills.”
As a lifelong planetarian, I can attest firsthand about how important these unique immersive classrooms are to the traditional classroom. I’ve worked in, managed and directed planetariums in blue-collar industrial centers (Pittsburgh), the South (Florida), the Northeast (Boston), and the Heartland ™ (Kansas), and no matter what part of the country you’re in, red state or blue state, planetariums play the same important role in educational experience of children all over America. If you could make an argument for anything, it would be there are too few planetariums.
Teachers are struggling in their classrooms just to teach just basic math, science and literacy skills; so many other necessary topics just get left out our kids’ education, or are completely ignored. And since No Child Left Behind has been implemented, too many teachers are forced to spend their time teaching to the specific tests that it mandates. All kinds of subjects are chucked to the dustbin, much to the detriment of students.
It’s hard to believe that astronomy and space – the study of the entire universe around us — everything, really – is one of those leftover subjects for many teachers, covered briefly, with little appreciation for the amazing magnitude and – well, fun – that is the study of the cosmos. This is where planetariums play a crucial role. Many teachers actually rely on bringing their kids to the planetarium and museum to cover the basics they’re required to cover. And many planetariums and museums actually take on the community task of training primary school teachers what to teach kids about not only astronomy, but physics, planetary science, chemistry and how to properly pronounce “Uranus.”
Many astronauts, engineers, scientists, and physicists cite their planetarium experience as a young adult as the inspiration for their careers. And something tells me that McCain is a fan of home schooling. Well, home school teachers use planetariums and museums extensively (to their credit) to teach their kids about the Universe and the wonders of nature. Why does McCain hate resources for home schools?
So planetariums are very much involved in the direct classroom education of the very kids we need to teach science to. That’s Foolishness You Can Believe In. But beyond that, and even more important than the direct lessons – is the role planetariums have in inspiring the next generation to envision themselves participating in a future of science and technology. Students and adults take away an incredible sense of awe from their planetarium experience, of being a part of something amazing as they fly through canyons on Mars and investigate the strange galaxies that contain hundreds of billions of stars. The planetarium allows kids to excersize their most amazing asset – their imagination – by simply giving them the place to throw their thoughts to the possible, as they sit entranced under the stars. I always got chills when I would first turn down the lights in the planetarium, to reveal the beauty of the night sky to a roomful of school kids. “Wwwoooooowwww!” they always collectively would shout to the stars. You tell me of another math or science lesson that gets that kind of response within the first minute.
More “foolishness,” please.
The money Obama got from the Federal government was for Chicago’s Adler Planetarium, the country’s first planetarium. The $3M (which I think is the price of a drink holder on a B-2 bomber) is for Adler’s Sky Theater, the dome in the Adler Planetarium complex that’s devoted to teaching the night sky’s stars and constellations – a part of nature truly lost behind the glow of today’s skyscraper and strip mall parking lights.
There couldn’t be any better use of such an “earmark” – the education about an important endangered species in nature – the Universe above us all. All in one of America’s premiere historic science teaching facilities no less. I guess McCain really hated the latest updating of the Smithsonian’s Einstein Planetarium, which he had to vote on, or his state’s own recently renovated planetarium at the Arizona Science Center in Phoenix, and I’m sure he’s banging his fist about the “foolishness” of the upcoming state-of-the-art planetarium at the University of Arizona’s Science Center located in Tuscon, one of America’s astronomy capitals.
Does McCain hate science education? Actually, I really don’t think so. Instead, I’m willing to bet that he doesn’t even know what a planetarium even is – even though he spent his college years training in one in a standard course in Celestial Navigation at the Naval Academy). Now that’s Irony You Can Believe In.
Planetariums are Bridges to the Future, and America would be a much better place if all the congressional earmarks went to projects like them.